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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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1 letter, paper

35.6761919, 139.6503106

Thursday 28th. Dearest Father. We are having a delightful tour. We came up to Nikko on Monday. It is one of the most enchanting of places. We spent Tuesday morning mainly in the wonderful temples which are set in great groves of cryptomerias. The azaleas were all in flower and there were tree peonies in the temple gardens covered with blossom. There was a violent thunder storm in the afternoon but it cleared about 4 and we went out with our new servant, Ageishi, guide and cook to the party, who took us to a tiny tea house where we had Japanese tea and peppermints - the latter provided as suitable to our European requirements - amidst a grove of little gods. There was a terrible typhoon last autumn which did an immensity of damage and swept away the lovely red lacquer 17th century bridge over the torrent, an irreparable loss. On Wed. it was exquisitely fine and we walked up in the morning to Chuzenji Lake where we lunched at a very good inn. Our modest baggage was carried by coolies. The woods, full of azalea, pink, red and white, and rhododendron were too lovely for words. Up at Chuzenji we found ourselves in early Spring, the wild cherries just out and the deciduous trees coming into leaf. The Lake lies in a cup of wooded hills (I won't write on this side of this horrid paper!) almost as suave and beautiful in outline as the hills round Como. But they are all volcanic and the higher peaks rise into cones tipped at this time of year with snow. We sailed down the Lake after lunch, got out at the end of it and walked up a wooded pass into a most curious marshy plain, the bed, I should think of an old lake, across which we walked, and up another wooded slope at the top of which we found ourselves by another exquisite lake even more wild and solitary than Chuzenji - Lake Yamoto is its name. The hills dropped very steeply down to the edge of it, the pines dipped into it and the Japanese nightingales sang round it. The village is at the upper end. We put up at a charming little inn, half Japanese half European, where they gave us broiling hot sulphur baths. The sulphur spring comes up at the upper end of the lake, so hot you can scarcely bear your hand in it. Next day, Thursday, we plunged into the real Japan. As we were leaving all possibilities of European food behind us, we took care to provide ourselves with papper, sougar, frour, appules and grease - I quote from Ageishi's list - and quite a few other things. We climbed up a very steep hill behind Yamoto. Last year's typhoon had swept the greater part of the path into the torrent bed and overlaid the whole cunningly with tree trunks, so that we were mostly scrabbling over boulders and under trees. It had also swept away a hut, said Ageishi, and killed 5 mans, jackal maker. After some consideration I concluded that these unfortunates must have been charcoal burners and expressed due commiseration, but Ageishi added hastily "Two mans baby" - two were only children, you understand. He was a charming person - his conversation was instructive and amusing, but never tiresome and his cooking was admirable. A colley puppy insisted on coming with us from Yamoto and followed us all the way. He was an agreeable little dog, his only fault was that he would bite the children in the villages, only pe-tence [sic], but they were terrified and Hugo had to beat the puppy. Not that the beating cured him. On the north side of the pass we got into deep snow, hardish and rather pleasant to walk on, lying under the pines. We lunched by a tiny lake, deep in pine woods and walked on over the snow for an hour or more, always in thick forest, till at last the path took a downward turn and brought us back into Spring and into a lovely valley, full of azalea and wisteria and Soloman's Seal and asters and pale blue gentians. And so we arrived at our destination, Ogawa, about 3, having walked 15 miles up hill and down dale. Our little Japanese inn was enchanting. The bath was heated for us as soon as we arrived and when I went down to it, I found it was a tub in the garden, as you might say, but very hot and clean. So I had it walled round more or less with bits of the paper walls of the house, which were lifted out for the purpose, and washed in peace. On Friday we had another lovely day and walked 21 miles to Numata, over wooded ridges and down wonderful smiling valleys, not a square inch of which was not growing everything it could possibly grow. I don't think there is such elaborate cultivation in any other country in the world. And every cottage has its tiny garden with flowers growing by the edge of a little pool or an irrigation channel. But it was a long way! Hugo gave out after 15 miles, being very footsore and got a pony to ride, but the puppy and I walked on and reached Numata very tired indeed. The inn wasn't very nice, rather dirty, in fact; but we were extremely glad to get there all the same. This time it wasn't possible to secure any privacy in the bath room, so I said a short prayer and went ahead. And I had not got into my dressing gown again, not more than half a minute, before a charming old gentleman appeared to fetch a pail and made me (in my dressing gown) a polite bow. No doubt he would have been just as urbane if I had been out of my dressing gown, but I doubt if I should have responded with the same ease and grace. From Numata we meant to have walked on another day up to Ikao, but on Saturday it poured and as by good luck we had got ourselves back onto roads again - we had been on mountain paths ever since Nikko - we took rickshaws down to a train line by which we reached the railway just in time to catch a midday train back to Tokyo, and arrived here about 4. Bien nous a pris, for today it poured and blew and we should have been ill suited in mountains. We found that Eric Collier and Reginald Farrer had returned from their journeys, leaving Gerard to go on alone. They and Mr Herbert all came to see us and carried Hugo off to a tea house to spend the evening in the company of geisha! I wonder how he comported himself! Eric said he appeared to be quite at his ease. Reginald Farrer, who is a great gardiner [sic], breakfasted with us this morning (Sunday) and he and I spent a happy morning in nursery gardens. Hugo lunched with a parson of sorts, and Eric with me. I have just read Vérité and I think I have ceased to regret that Zola was asphyxiated untimely. I don't think I could have read the fourth Evangel. I hope you are considering the advisability of lighting and warming 95 with radium. I see it only costs £15,000 an ounce, and it's a good two degrees warmer than the surrounding atmosphere, which is quite as much warmer as our hot water usually is.

Monday June 1st [1 June 1903] We went down to Yokohama this morning and spent the day with the Stokeses. She, you remember, was a travelling companion of ours on the Shanghai. Her husband is Captain of the Eclipse which is here now. I like them both very much. She and I went to see some gardens in the morning, Capt. Stokes joining us. He's a nice bluff sailor. Then H [Hugo] and I lunched with them at the hotel - the Eclipse was unfortunately coaling so we couldn't lunch on board. After lunch H and I went to see the Westons. He's a parson and I met them both on a glacier at Rosenlaui. They are both rather nice and we all told long pointless mountain stories, to the satifaction of all concerned. They asked me to dine and sleep last week, but I could not go. Our relations with the Macdonalds have been rather strange I think. We called when we first arrived and she was out. She wrote to me and said her time was fully occupied for the next few days and she was going out of town on Saturday, would we call again when we came back to Tokyo. I happen to know that she didn't go out of town, and I felt rather indignant. We called again yesterday and she was out. She asked us to lunch today and we couldn't go, but I have suggested that I should go and see her at 6 today and she has sent me a note to say she would be in. I don't think she has been very cordial, do you? Lady Susan Townley is staying at the Legation for a few days.
Father! you are the Lord of 110 trees! Japanese cherries and plums, not dwarfed. I think we shall have to induce our respected father and grandfather to let us make a plantation at R'ton [Rounton] or Mt Grace - wouldn't it be nice to have a Japanese cherry grove! They have cost you about £2.10/ with carriage. But some plants I propose potting for 95 and Red Barns, the former to stand in the garden, the latter to be forced in a cold house. The plums will flower at Xmas. I'll keep the potted plants small. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude

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